Scott Alexander and his writing partner, Larry Karaszewski, have written the screenplays for the movies Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt, Man on the Moon, and most recently, Big Eyes, a biopic of the painter Margaret Keane directed by Tim Burton. Before a screening and discussion of Big Eyes, Alexander sat down in the Zócalo green room to talk about being inspired by a young filmmaker, why he’s a proponent of oatmeal, and how he’s become one of those people who needs to keep a glass of water by the bed at night.
What superpower would you most like to have?
I’d like to be able to read people’s minds.
What do you eat for breakfast?
I eat oatmeal three or four times a week. I think oatmeal is very delicious, it fills you up, and it’s healthy. I’m a big proponent of oatmeal.
Who’s your favorite painter?
That’s a loaded question.
What’s the last thing that inspired you?
I was very inspired by the movie Whiplash, which was written and directed by a kid named Damien Chazelle. I love jazz—I do play jazz music—and I identify with a lot of issues in the movie, and I thought it was a fantastic portrayal of the obsession to be great. I got to meet Chazelle—I call him a kid because I’m over 50—and I said, “You know, it’s really a big deal to have written and directed something great when you’re in your 20s.” And he thought I was being sarcastic. He didn’t understand I was being completely sincere.
What’s your favorite household chore?
I like taking care of my vegetable garden—I enjoy spraying the leaves and killing the snails and pulling out the weeds.
How many pairs of shoes would you say you own?
One. I wear the same pair of shoes every day of my life. I think it’s wasteful and silly to own lots of pairs of shoes. Actually to be honest, I now own a second pair. My wife made me buy a new pair of black shoes for the premiere of my movie so I wouldn’t look like a hobo.
What’s your favorite movie snack?
Oh, I love popcorn. I also eat movie popcorn at home when I’m not at a movie.
Where did you learn to swim, and who taught you?
It’s strange you ask that, because just last week my mom mentioned the swim teacher I had when I was 3, and she asked me if I remembered those swim classes, and I said, “What are you, kidding?” I don’t remember anything from when I was 3. According to my parents, I learned how to swim at the Los Angeles Athletic Club downtown because my dad played handball there, and he thought it would be fun for my sister and me to learn to swim down there. We lived nowhere near downtown, so my mom would drive us there in order to swim. After a while my mom rebelled, and said we’re going to find a more efficient way to teach these kids.
What’s your most inexcusable habit?
I get really irritable when people are being stupid.
What’s on your nightstand right now?
[Laughs.] The only thing I’ve put on my nightstand which I use is, I’ve now become one of those people who needs a glass of water on their nightstand. I don’t know why, but now I wake up in the night, and I’m thirsty. It’s something about getting older. There’s nothing on my nightstand because I sort of feel like the activities in the bedroom should be very restricted. I don’t read in my bedroom, and we don’t have a TV in the bedroom, so there’s not a lot of other items you would need on a nightstand.